Samui Wining & Dining
NO MIX UP

Up-beat, cool, minimalistic, extravagant – there’s no end of ways to describe Chaweng’s dramatic Drink Gallery!


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Take a long and objective look at Chaweng Beach Road and something interesting emerges. Firstly you’ll notice that people tend to cruise up and down. Not the taxis: I’m talking about ordinary folks, strolling around, on the look-out for refreshment, a bite to eat or a holiday bargain. The second thing is that shops and restaurants (in particular) compete fiercely to get their custom. They’ll seemingly go to any lengths to lure people in off the street. But you never can tell. Sometimes the promise of an enticing frontage results in indifferent service and food that’s . . . adequate.

      And yet the quality is there, all right – restaurants and resorts just have different ways of declaring their presence. Some might do it with a blaze of lights. Others are far more low-key and are content to let their reputation keep them busy. And, of these, some you’ll hardly notice at all. Such as, for instance, the hugely stylish resort that’s almost entirely hidden from view, and is simply known as ‘The Library’.

        Right from the start, when The Library opened its doors in 2006, its presence was undeniable. And almost invisible too, especially from the street: deliberately so. The main clue was the all-white stylised life-size figure, backdropped by unobtrusive wooden cladding, sitting, raised, at the edge of the road, reading a book. But going inside, entering via the deliberately anonymous narrow passageway, revealed dimensions that fell somewhere between the coolly-geometric paintings of Piet Mondrian and Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole.

          This was the first island resort which practised the religion of minimalism – now often adopted but seldom celebrated with unity. Neat white duplex cubes, precisely placed on either side of the broad central swathe of vivid green lawn, announced the accommodation. The library building itself (yes, there was and still is an extensive library) was a simple cube of glass. The swimming pool, a dramatic rectangle of bright red. And the superb restaurant, ‘The Page’, was innovatively and simply furnished in black, with the décor an interplay of black and white splashed with accents of red.

          Throughout there were constant surprises: in the glass and black-marble reception room were wooden kitchen chairs, the backs of which rose inexplicably to around 2 metres. The square black dining tables were devoid of cutlery – until you found the hidden drawer which held a full silver service. Within the seeming simplicity there lurked an endless realm of enigma, which sometimes startled and, at other times, raised smiles of admiration. Aspects sometimes teetered on the edge of zany, but never went the whole way – everything was far too considered and stylish for that.

          It was all deliberately understated and almost a secret, except that people in the know – celebrities and trend-setters from Bangkok and abroad – knew all about it and were often to be seen in the restaurant or by the pool. Not to mention the host of national and international recommendations it attracted, or the steady stream of Trip Advisor awards. The Library was hidden away, shyly but confidently, waiting to be discovered. Completely unlike the dramatic shout of the resort’s newest statement, ‘Drink Gallery’, that’s appeared, declaring its head-on presence along a hundred-foot stretch of prime beach road!

          If you drive past you’ll find your head turning to take-in the raised broad wooden deck, with the two-storey sweep of crystal glass to one side. If you stroll past – you won’t. You’ll stop. You’ll have to; compelled to look more closely, mesmerised by a combination of dramatic dimensions and an astonishing sense of seeming simplicity, that becomes more diverse as you stare. And, in that, both the spirit and the motifs of The Library are consistent.

          Drink Gallery is based around a vast glass cube to the left. Within, against one of the raw concrete walls, from floor to 40-foot ceiling, extend rising layers of glowing bottles topped by another simple drama; a gigantic painting. An inscrutable face, a young Asian woman, holds you with her gaze. The more you look, the more she tells you. She’s of the country, simple, plain, direct; her pigtailed hair tells you that. But her lips are bright with red lipstick; things are not as they seem. Beneath the simplicity there are secrets to reveal. “I really think that this is a symbol, both of the Drink Gallery and also for The Library itself,” Francis Gan, the resort’s Marketing and Publicity officer explains. “At first glance you can’t take it all in, you don’t get an insight. And then you begin to notice the flares and twists of décor and style that endow everything with the same charisma.”

          Such as the nests of seating outside on the deck. No, they’re not all the same: some are for couples, others for groups. Some feature pods of beanbags around low tables; others are more upright and formal, set for a meal. Some are tucked quietly away in corners; some perch you up above the busy road, perfect for peoplewatching. But at first glance they all seem to be the same, such is the constancy of the presentation.

          The ‘glassroom’ itself is fresh and coolly air-conditioned. There’s also a variety of seating patterns here but the one that holds the attention is the long wooden table that runs parallel to the bar. This isn’t just here for big groups, it’s also designed to be a socialising device, intended to engage people who’d otherwise not interact. There’s just a hint of the boardroom here – until you spot another whimsy; every single chair is radically different in style.

          And then we come to Dhasan Prabhananda, better known as Golffy. He’s interesting. Firstly he’s Thaiborn but went with his parents to California when he was just four months old. He first began to work in a bar whilst studying for his degree in psychology at UCLA. Things progressed and, five years ago, he returned to Bangkok where his expertise in mixology won him a place in the capital’s biggest bar consultancy company. And from there to here, to Drink Gallery, which he designed, equipped, stocked and staffed. And, as the ‘mixultant’, he’s also entirely responsible for some of the most dramatic designer cocktails on the island – they’re curious, offbeat, and precisely keyed into the ethos of The Library and Drink Gallery.

          Some of them are served in a glass, as you’d expect. But Golffy approaches his cocktails with the same verve as a chef, incorporating raisins, cheese, apples, citrus peel, figs and every kind of fruit – you name it – within his creations. And this means that many of them are served in containers you don’t expect. Such as ‘Jarhead’, which comes in a screw-top jar. Or ‘Blushed’, presented in a deepred spherical bowl. There are even several art deco flower vases on hand for those spur-of-the-moment bursts of creativity!

          There are most definitely two faces to Drink Gallery. There’s the daytime one, snacks ’n’ relax, with a brunch/lunch menu to go with it. This seems to blur into the evening interface, as both the clientèle and the menu changes. If it seems that the menu is secondary and tagged-on to the tipples, it’s not. Some of the items are superlative, such as the ‘Seared Chilled Australian Veal Chops with Smashed (literally!) Potatoes, Green Onion and Red Pan Jus’. Or the ‘Oven Roasted Lamb Chops, Toasted Aioli Cabbage with Fried Shallots’. The offerings range all the way from finger foods to fantasia, and the presentation and service is correspondingly impeccable.

          Which only leaves us with the final phase, the ‘night gallery’. The Drink Gallery has become the place to head to late-on. It’s cool and comfy, in twos or in groups you can lay back and be laid-back, and as the steady stream of Chaweng Beach Road flows inexorably past in all its finery and neon as you meet, greet, mix and mingle. And sit and sip. Right the way through, past the witching hour and into the small hours of the morning.

          Drink Gallery opens for breakfast/brunch at 11:00 am and closes late. And you’ll find it right on the frontage of Chaweng Beach Road, across from, and just a little way south of the landmark of McDonald’s.

 

 Rob De Wet


 


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